HC Deb 15 March 1907 vol 171 cc400-3

Order for second reading read.


said his remarks had to be brief in arguing for the advisability of passing this small measure, the object of which was to secure the closing of licensed premises on the polling day of any election under the provision of the Ballot Act. He submitted that there was a great amount of practical experience in favour of the proposed change in the law. What was proposed by the Bill was in force throughout Canada, and other British Colonies, and he was interested to read that in the Transvaal, owing to the operation of Lord Milner's law on the subject, the recent elections were conducted with a good order and decorum that were quite laudable and remarkable. In 1905 a similar law was passed in New South Wales. In fifteen States of the American Union, including all the most important ones, laws had been passed for closing licensed premises on election days; and he found that in Canada it was common ground with both political Parties that the public-houses should be shut on such occasions. He was assured by an official in Toronto that there had been a marked absence of intemperance on election days there since the passing of the law; and the President of Harvard University, the chairman of a Committee of fifty which proposed a number of moderate changes in licensing legislation, said that American opinion accepted without question the restriction of the opening of public-houses on election days. What was proposed by the Bill was that the opening of licensed premises or the selling of drink thereon on the days upon which Parliamentary or municipal elections were held should be declared an illegal practice. There was one exception which did not appear on the face of the Bill. The City of London, under the drafting of the Ballot Act, would be exempted from the Bill, and exceptions were also made in favour of persons living in hotels and travellers by railway. He believed that if the Bill became law it would improve the conduct of elections in the country. He had been told that it might cause great inconvenience; but if inconvenience arose once in every four or five years, it was no more than the inhabitants of Wales, Scotland, and almost the whole of Ireland submitted to on Sunday every week. If he were asked to give any justification for the proposed change he would refer to the facts elicited during the trial of elections petitions, although all the facts were not by any means revealed. Quite enough, however, had come out to show that in certain portions of certain constituencies there was a bribable class and that bribery took place in public-houses on election days. Not many years ago the candidates at an election had a triumphal procession going from one public-house to another, in which there was a great deal of treating and drinking. Similar practices took place in connection with municipal elections. The Attorney-General had held out hopes the other day of a measure stiffening up the law of corrupt practices, and he submitted that this point should not be overlooked. It would promote the purity of elections and check some well-known abuses. Publicans claimed that they were bound to stand by their trade irrespective of every other consideration. If that were so, he maintained that the country at large ought to be at liberty to take special precautions to prevent the improper use of public-houses at election time. He appealed to the Government to give the proposal embodied in the Bill a place in their promised licensing legislation. He begged to move.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said that the hon. Gentleman had made an extremely able speech, from his own point of view; but he had introduced an extraordinary precedent into the debates of the House. The hon. Gentleman had practically talked his own Bill out, and no one else had a chance of making any observations upon it. The hon. Gentleman had made a still more extraordinary suggestion that the Government should take up the Bill, and embody it in their promised Licensing Bill. They were promised so many Bills by the present Radical Government that if, in addition to those, they were going to take up the Bills of their supporters, he was afraid that Mr. Speaker would have to sit in his Chair without any interval until Christmas Day, and that was not a possibility which anybody in the House would look upon with any great pleasure.

And, it being Five of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.